Very rarely do we in North America see glaring evidence of the multi-billion dollar industry that is the international sex trade. It appears in splashes on our news screens in the form of zumba-studio sex rings and documentaries from abroad. But the truth is that it is carried on in our own backyards daily to people whose lives are so often historically invisible.
According to American researcher Christine Stark, for over a decade North American women — Native Canadians of the First Nation clans — have been being bought and sold on board U.S. ships for as little as a bottle of scotch. The First Nations women come from Thunder Bay, Ontario, and have been sold on ships in the harbor at Duluth, Minnesota. The spot is infamous among First Nation women for sex trafficking. Young girls, women and even babies are sold in exchange for alcohol, money, drugs or even a place to sleep.
Watch a VJ Movement video on the aboriginal sex trade below:
Native American and indigenous Canadian women are particularly vulnerable to the sex trade because of the ongoing poverty in many Native American communities. According to U.S. census reports, and community surveys, American Indian and Alaskan poverty rates are the highest of all other race groups. At 27%, these indigenous groups have a poverty rate over 10% points higher than the national average (around 14%). This staggering poverty level leads to multifarious community and personal issues including substance abuse and homelessness, causing many women to engage in survival sex in exchange for a place to live or money to feed addiction.
While American researchers and Canadian NGOs like the Ontario Native Women's Association (ONWA) are working to find out more about this trade and protect native women and children, this issue should be brought up in the context of the incredible poverty rate among Native Americans. In cities all over the country, Native populations experience poverty rates ranging from 16% (the lowest in Anchorage, Ak.) to over 50% (the highest in Rapid City, S.D.).
These are not just statistics. These numbers make Native American women, teens and children an especially vulnerable population, an issue long neglected, that deserves national attention.